Are you looking for a destination for your next vacation? The requirements are the same as it must have relaxation, fun, a touch of the exotic, tantalizing flavors, a place that can put you back in touch with yourself and with nature maybe? Definitely, you have to orient yourself to the choice of a trip to Cuba.
Imagine the Caribbean sceneries in one of those famous beaches surrounded by Cuban musical rhythms, from the smiles and welcoming attitude typical of this lovely place. Cuba is the most sought after and desired island of the moment and will remain so in the coming decades, when the noise around will be ceased and everyone will enjoy its beauty, perhaps with a few more amenities.
The Republic of Cuba is located in the Caribbean between the two Americas surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, where the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea are grazed, and is in the center of a wonderful necklace of Caribbean islands with the Bahamas to the north, Cayman Islands and Jamaica to the south, and the Southern coast, Turks and Caicos Islands and Haiti to the east and Mexico to the west.
Cuba is also the largest island in the Caribbean and boasts white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters of Cayo Largo and Varadero, historic towns such as Havana and Trinidad, declared World Heritage by UNESCO, green valleys like those of Pinar del Rio, populated by the most famous tobacco plantations in the world along with banana and coffee, villages and colonial towns. When you think of the beautiful Cienfuegos, it is full of wildlife parks like the Alejandro Humboldt National Park in Granma, the National Park Ciénaga of Zapata and the Viñales National Park.
So you are traveling to Cuba, or dream to get there. What to do in Cuba? What to see in Cuba and in Havana, Varadero, and Trinidad? Here is a travel guide if you're on vacation in the most beautiful island in the Caribbean and the list of the most beautiful places to see in Cuba. I was in Cuba for 20 days and I stopped first in Havana, then in Viñales with a day trip to the Cayo Jutias beach, then in Trinidad, then Cienfuegos and finally to Varadero.
This is the story of my vacation in Cuba and my impressions after landing in Havana. As you know, I spend the Christmas and the New Year across the world. The one before last year we were in the beautiful Argentina, with a journey that lasted 16 days to the conquest of Buenos Aires and unique landscapes of South America. The last Christmas holidays were spent in Cuba for an adventure on the road to discovering the beautiful city of Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad and in contact with the relaxed pace of a country where the internet connection is still a mirage and the shadows of American capitalism have not yet touched the ground.
The flight lands on time at the Jose Martí airport. The turbulence over the Atlantic had already given way to a golden sunset and now there's only the moon to light the night in Cuba. We recover our bags, overcome the controls and change in CUC the amount of local currency that will be used for the next few days to live on the island, including staying in budget hotels, 5-star resorts, and adventures by car without GPS.
The taxi driver was waiting for us at the International arrivals. A white sign with my name written with elegant strokes, a benevolent smile, and his firm grip welcome us, Bienvenido a La Habana. And I realize that my journey in the footsteps of Che, Hemingway, and myths of the Revolution has just begun.
After 25 minutes in a car puffing at every empty asphalt, jumps, and rattles, we get to the center of Havana. The owner of the homestay that I booked online waited for us. Casa Vitrales is more beautiful than I had imagined. The old floor tiles were reminiscent of the modern geometries of Gio Ponti, or those of the sunny porches I spent taking pictures for hours in the neighborhood of San Telmo, in Buenos Aires.
From the high ceilings hanged dusty crystal chandeliers. Tents, velvet sofas, tropical plants embodied the railings of a long terrace, along with mirrors, paintings by Latin artists, Soviet watches, slides and fashion magazines scattered everywhere. My room was airy, spacious, with a Moroccan shower, colonial furniture and fresh flowers in a small glass jar. For eight days this was to be my place on the island, one from which I start exploring the city.
After a hot bath, I fall asleep. Anticipating the breakfast the next morning that the owner will serve on the terrace, my very first steps of Havana conquest begins. An unforgiving sun burns the skin on the terrace of Casa Vitrales while waiting for a gentle double egg fry included in the menu. The bells of the church here ring in celebration of an early summer, while a hummingbird fluttered at an inch by my nose, before retiring to the great flight, up to the palm tree on the corner. A bush of fresh rosemary and a slight breeze were for companionship, as I swallowed the sweet guava juice with delight.
One of the guys who take care of the house, gives us a map of the city with his transcribed notes in pen. It is an invitation to hit the road, with my camera and a new notebook that already started tasting the beginning of a new adventure.
The Cuban landscape presents itself in a very homogenous manner that is full of beautiful sandy coasts embraced by low rocky and tap cliffs by the turquoise waters of the oceans. We meet the majestic coral reefs in the Camaguey province where divers and experts have the chance to explore. In some places the coast tends to be close, giving rise to natural harbor coves of great beauty and commercial activities.
Walking towards the hinterland we find a harmonious morphology albeit differentiated because we have the spacious and sunny plains, rolling hills that help mitigate climate but also the high mountain ranges, the fascinating mountain ranges rich in streams and springs like those of the Sierra Maestra or province of Pinar del Rio. The highest and most famous mountain (1984 mt) is the Pico Real del Turquino.
Before getting to the heart of this holiday in Cuba, speaking of its attractions, the country is divided into fifteen provinces (Pinar del Rio, Artemisa, Havana, Mayabeque, Matanzas, Cienfuegos, Villa Clara, Sancti Spíritus, Ciego de Ávila, Camagüey, Las Tunas, Granma Holguín, Santiago de Cuba, Guantánamo) plus the Isle of giuventù which is a special municipality.
If we mention something for which Cuba is famous probably you would think of rum and cigars but certainly also the beaches, enchanting natural scenery along picturesque bays, headlands like Baracoa and its paths ideal for trekking lovers, or Varadero or even Pinar del Río, where the caves in the rich calcareous mountains were to be explored along with the natural parks of the Sierra Maestra.
We, of course, do not omit the colorful, noisy, rich city of Havana from the human but also cultural point of view. Havana, the capital, bot only has its Spanish colonial architecture, countless historic theaters and sunny beaches, but also Santiago de Cuba with Cuban culture par excellence, the cradle of the revolution, as also Trinidad, with its picturesque baroque churches, the marble buildings and interesting museums.
And yet another is Sancti Spíritus with its characteristic paladar restaurants where you can enjoy excellent lobsters or dish with chicken and bananas, pork with avocado, tostones (fried plantain slices) and the tasty prawns. A separate discussion deserve the legendary Isla de la Juventud, one of the atolls that surround Cuba, which has been a source of inspiration for great artists such as RL Stevenson, refuge of pirates, home of the most important plantations, the guardian of the cave paintings of the archaic Avi, habitat of iguanas, pelicans, giant tortoises and rare marine species.
Before leaving for this amazing location it is also advisable to carry Tarjeta de Turista or an entry visa to Cuba at the Cuban consulate and book in advance the hotels notifying the destination city. Once there you can also choose a Cuban casa (rooms for rent in private homes) that are much more affordable.
WHAT TO SEE IN HAVANA
The capital of Cuba is the historic and magical city of Havana, founded exactly 500 years ago by Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar and populated by about 2.2 million inhabitants and is the political, administrative and social center. I found the city in turmoil, steeped in history, with contemporary art galleries, theaters, and a vibrant culinary scene, the paladar star in the gourmet restaurant.
I recommend you stay in Havana for 3 or 4 days, which will be enough to see all the major sights and to get an idea of life in the city. I have spent eight days in Havana and I considered them excessive. However, I could come back several times to places that I loved most, visiting all the major attractions without the hustle of the classic tourists and also discover smaller and hidden gems. This guide really gives the best things to see in Havana.
1. Museo de la Revolución
To know a little more about the history, myths and the most important moments of the Cuban Revolution, come to the Museo de la Revolución, a few steps from Paseo del Prado and Parque Central, in the historic part of Havana, housed in former Presidential Palace. The 1919 building retains the sumptuous furnishings of the rooms in which it was decided the history of the country and modest collections of documents and historical evidence. The Hall of Mirrors (Salón de Los Espejos), hold rich furnishings such as the Palace of Versailles and is the perfect place for a souvenir photo.
2. Museo Nacional Bellas Artes de Cuba
The National Museum of Fine Arts of Cuba has two distinct sections, housed in two different buildings, dedicated to international art (Arte Universal) and Cuban Art (Arte Cubano), a short distance from Museo de la Revolución and the main attractions Havana Vieja. The Museum of Cuban Art is what I liked most that will put you in contact with local art forms and the great names in art from Guillermo Collazo to Wifredo Lam, a friend of Picasso and prominent figures of the avant-garde of the twentieth century.
The building is very large, but if you do not have much time, in half an hour you can get by and take a look at least the most important collections. I very much appreciated the work of Wifredo Lam and the beautiful photo exhibition "Moments of the Human Condition" of the documentary photographer Peter Turnley.
3. Bacardi Building
The Edificio Bacardi, built in 1929, is one of those buildings in the city before which you will pass several times, or at least this is the impression after a while you have set foot in Havana. The tower of this beautiful building in Art Deco style is indeed visible from several points of the old town and is right in the middle of an area that boasts museums, parks and historic bars of the capital. The Palace is not inhabited, but for 1 CUC you can visit the first floor and reach the top of the tower (thanks to a lift) to enjoy a 360-degree view of Havana.
4. Casa Vitrales
One of the great things about a holiday in Cuba is the possibility to stay in a casa, or in one of the private houses run by locals and go close to the island's culture. In Havana, the most beautiful casa is undoubtedly Casa Vitrales. A home where design and elegance are the masters. A place in the heart is Havana Vieja, where you can really appreciate art, colors and good island cuisine. Casa Vitrales has beautiful furnishings, large windows overlooking the street and a large terrace where breakfast is served every day.
5. Plaza de la Catedral
A short walk from Casa Vitrales, right in the most authentic heart of Havana, is the Plaza de la Catedral, the main square of the city in which stands the magnificent Cathedral of Havana, considered the best example of Cuban Baroque and one of the main attractions not to be missed. Around Plaza de la Catedral are museums and galleries that I recommend you to put on the list, from the Taller Experimental de Grafica, at the Wifredo Lam Center, but also restaurants, and popular bars. In the left lane of the square, you will find the Bodeguita del Medio.
6. Taller Experimental de Graphics
On one side of the Plaza de la Catedral, just before emerging in the large space dominated by the Baroque architecture of the Cathedral of Havana, lies one of the great little art workshops that you can visit in the city. The Taller Experimental de Graphics is a factory of ideas and colors that opened in 1962, even with the support of the then Minister Che Guevara. Even today here local artists compete to produce contemporary works of art. On the second floor of this art workshop, in fact, there is a small shop.
7. Bodeguita del Medio
La Bodeguita del Medio is a special place, which will catapult you for a few minutes in the real Cuban atmosphere, even though it's right in the middle of the tourist part of town. La Bodeguita del Medio is a tourist place, but it is also a true institution not to be missed and the place where the Mojito cocktail was invented and sipped for the first time. Since 1942 this is the place where you can enjoy the best Mojito in Cuba and the world while listening to classical Cuban music performed by outstanding artists in the small space of the room.
Sit in one of the high stools around the bar, order your cocktail made of rum, cane sugar, mint and lime and be transported by beautiful rumba. Salvador Allende and Pablo Neruda, but also Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Hemingway loved this place. You will like it too!
8. Centro de Arte Contemporaneo Wifredo Lam
There are a few selected places in Havana devoted to contemporary art and the Wifredo Lam Center is one of those not to be missed. The museum, dedicated to one of the most representative Cuban artists, contemporary and friend of Pablo Picasso, is located next to the Havana Cathedral, one of the top corners of Plaza de la Catedral. It hosts exhibitions and installations by contemporary artists, international and developing countries such as Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia and represents the heart of the initiative to the visual arts of Havana Biennial.
9. Plaza de Armas
Leaving the Plaza de la Catedral, walk south to Plaza de Armas, the oldest square in Havana, still in the old heart of the city. Plaza de Armas dates back to 1520, that is, a few years after the founding of the Cuban capital, but the park and the buildings that surround it today were built in the late eighteenth century.
Plaza de Armas is also the famous square for the object's market and used books and there are also beautiful vintage copies of National Geographic which takes place every day, except Sundays, under the palm trees and in shady spots surrounding the small park central. Get busy grooming through the shelves of the stalls set up with care and seek shelter from the heat of the island in one of the bars that are nearby. The ice-cold Coke or local Tukola at this point is all there!
10. Plaza Francisco de Asis
Plaza de Armas will remember it for the flea market, Plaza Francesco de Asis for art installations and for European look of its architecture. What I found during my visit is the fun and colorful installation of 16 sculptures of cartoon dogs drawn from many Latin American artists (Xico project) which, inspired by Mexican icon (the traditional dog Xoloitzcuintle), have achieved 16 sculptures pop, about 1.80 m tall each, to celebrate the 496th birthday of Havana.
The square dates back to the sixteenth century, is located opposite the port of the city and was renovated in the 90s. Its clean appearance and refurbished after restoration will make you feel for a moment Belgian tourists in a city, rather than on a Caribbean vacation. On one side of the square are the Church and the Convent of St. Francis of Assisi which is now a museum that you can visit without a guide at a cost of 2 CUC.
11. Calle Obispo and Taquechel Pharmacy
Leaving behind Plaza Francesco de Asis, and Walking along in the direction of Plaza Vieja, you will end up at some point to admire the art workshops and showcases of small and elegant shops of Calle Obispo, which with Calle Mercaderes is the main shopping street in Havana. One of the addresses that I suggest is the one that was established in the late nineteenth century and reopened to the public in the mid-nineties. Take a ride between the two main halls and visit the small museum, being enchanted by the beauty of the place. The pharmacy keeps ancient French porcelain and sells ointments and medicines made in Cuba and other salvific herbs.
12. Factoria Habana - Experimental Art Museum
One of the places you will not find easily in the travel guides perhaps upstaged compared to FAC: Fabrica de Arte Cubano and I discovered by accident, lost in the cobbled streets of the old city, is Factoria Habana, a large building three floors devoted entirely to art and contemporary visual arts, opened with the aim of creating a link between Latin American art and European art. The visit is absolutely free and the exhibits and installations arranged on three levels really deserve. The museum will keep you busy for a good half hour by subtracting the sultry inclement road. Super recommended if you love art, design, and photography!
13. Plaza Vieja
Plaza Vieja, originally called Plaza Nueva, is the place that I liked most Havana. It was because the surrounding buildings were restored recently and the colors of their facades, embellished with beautiful Vitrales or traditional stained glass windows, greet us with a hug that warms the heart, but really this place will make inroads into your heart. The blue sky is the roof to this picture of styles (baroque and art nouveau especially) and daily life.
At the center of the Square is a newly restored fountain fenced, and sides of the same successive bars, breweries, restaurants, and shops. In the square, as well as tourists visiting the old city and with the guitar sing the classics of Cuban music, even the children of the elementary school Angela Lauda, who practice without problems during the time of physical education.
14. Centro de Desarrollo de las Artes Visuales
On one side of Plaza Vieja is the Centro de Desarrollo de las Artes Visuales, museum and experimental center dedicated to visual arts that you can visit for free in a flat freedom. The center is housed in one of the historic buildings surrounding the square and is on three levels. On the top floor, after going through the largest exhibition hall, you can view down the long terrace overlooking the square and take the best photos of Plaza Vieja from there. The place is worth a visit, if not for the works, at least for the wonderful panoramic view it offers one of the jewels of the city.
15. Russian Church Our Lady of Kazan
Ties between Cuba and Moscow have always been strong, at least until a recent cooling occurred after the resumption of communications between the island and the US Government. In Havana, Cuba, and in general, still, circulate numerous Russian Lada cars. In some restaurants with Russian cuisine, you'll find it on the Malecon and furnishings and memorabilia of the Soviet period which are there almost in every home. The Cubans consider Russian as brothers and, despite the vicissitudes of the past and the end of the USSR, Cuba has never ceased to feel closer to Russia.
One of the gestures that demonstrate the intrinsic link between the two cultures is the realization, in recent years of a beautiful Russian Orthodox Church in the historic part of the city. The Church of Our Lady of Kazan is a small jewel with white stucco with a golden dome that shines under the scorching sun of the Caribbean, now in place and open to the faithful of the Orthodox worship that are found on the island.
When I passed through here to visit it, the church was closed. However, with the help of Cubans, I have to track down the man who holds it in care and to enter for a shot and a brief prayer. They are Orthodox, but the beauty of the icons and the atmosphere and the collection of a Russian church in the heart of the Caribbean make a nice effect.
16. Gymnasio Rafael Trejo
Cubans will be no fencing champions, nor the legends of football, but they are very strong in boxing. In Cuba, between the popular streets of Havana old, it is set this gem that will appeal to sports lovers with a boxing school in the open air, which you can visit during the week after 16:00, when you perform the workouts, or Friday night, if you care to witness a true match.
This open air Alestra, made by a central ring and a small square in which promising young boxing train, you can also book your personal boxing lesson and make you follow professional instructors until you've had enough. The Gymnasia Rafael Trejo, who takes its name from a young revolutionary killed in the 30s of last century, has produced many Olympic champions and represents one of the places still intact in the city, where you can really get in touch with the people and culture of Island.
I advise you to leave a small donation to the masters who will be kind to let you stay to watch the workouts and take all the photos you want.
17. The Capitolio
You will not have to struggle to see one of the symbols of Havana. You will pass in front of the Capitolio Nacional many times, or will there be in front, emerging from one of the many alleys full of life Havana Center. The Capitolio Nacional is the most recognizable structure and magnificent city, set up in the 20s of XX century and was originally home to the Cuban government. The appearance is reminiscent of the Capitol of the American capital, but the pale stone dome of the Capitol, 62 meters high, slightly exceeds that of the Pink Palace in Washington.
18. Real Fábrica de Tabacos Partagas
If you are in Cuba, and even better in Havana, take a trip in a tobacco factory to buy a bit of cigar to take home and give to friends and relatives. In the heart of Havana Center, just in front of the Capitolio, stands the historic facade of the Real Fabrica de Tabacos Partagas, historical company founded in 1845, dedicated to the production of highly renowned cigars.
In fact, even the Lonely Planet misses this, because it is not really updated on Cuba. Fabrica has moved about 2 km from here and to see men and women work with the tobacco leaves, you will have to take another little street. However, at this address, you can still find the official Partagas store, where you can buy the best cigars of the island, from Monte Cristo to Romeo y Julieta, the most prized Cohiba, the Partagas (P2), the favorite of Hemingway.
19. Malecón and tour by vintage car
When in 1901 were erected stone walls to defend the city from the strength of currents and hurricanes that lash the island during the rainy season, no one would have imagined that the Malecón, the waterfront of Havana, would become the living room of the city, where Cubans from morning to evening would find themselves, for walking, fishing, exchanging small talk, getting together and kiss each other until dawn, braving the horizon.
If you are in Havana holiday, you should not miss a stroll along the Malecón. You can also take around at sunset one of the American classic cars parked in front of the Hotel Inglaterra in Parque Central. A ride at sunset along the Malecon will cost from 10 to 15 CUC and will leave wonderful memories.
20. La Guarida Restaurant
What to eat in Cuba? But above all, what to eat in Havana? If you are traveling to Cuba and you've also made yourself this question, the answer is La Guarida. There are many traditional local Pescado del Dia and typical dishes of Creole cuisine, but if you want the best and leave Havana with a lasting impression of the city, then spend a nice evening at the La Guarida restaurant in Havana Center.
La Guarida is a well-known restaurant in the city, the main place in which they were shot scenes of the Oscar-nominated Strawberry and Chocolate and where all the biggest international stars, from Spielberg to Will Smith, from Sting to Dustin Hoffman, from Beyonce and Roberto Cavalli, up to Rihanna, made a stop during their stay in Havana.
What I recommend you do is make a jump here the day before, not only to book a table (given the high demand), but also to take a photo during the day at the spectacular second floor of the building that houses the restaurant and it looks like a large room with columns and large window overlooking the street, where the waiters at La Guarida come to hang out the laundry. The contrast between the orange color of the walls and the tablecloths will make the heart jump with ecstasy.
21. Monument of Jose Martì
The José Martí Memorial is the tallest building in the city (about 140 meters) and stands tall in the Plaza de la Revolución, in the district of Vedado. The building is a real tribute to the National Hero José Martí, to whom is also dedicated to the Havana Airport. You can take the elevator and get to the station located 129 meters to enjoy the best views of the Plaza. However, from here you can still take a beautiful photo of the Piazza with murals of Che Guevara in the background.
22. Minister of the Interior and the Palace of Che Guevara murals
In front of the José Martí Memorial, corner of Plaza de la Revolucion, you will recognize one of the icons of the country with the top 30 meters ceramic murals, the work of Amalia Pelàez, depicting the face of the young Ernesto Che Guevara, accompanied by the famous slogan Hasta la Victoria Siempre. The tribute stands out on the facade of the Ministry of Interior (Ministerio del Interior) and is a must for all those who are visiting Havana. The tourist bus passes in front of the building and slows down for a few seconds, to allow everyone to take a picture.
23. Café Laurent
If you are in the neighborhood of Vedado, and you feel like something good, the ideal place for a tasty lunch in a special place is Cafe Laurent. This restaurant is located on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Vedado and you reach it by taking a small elevator. The light wood furniture and wallpaper made from the old magazine will make you feel at home. The food is impeccable, the dishes the numerous menu and the quality of the ingredients over the Havana standards. Ask to have lunch on the terrace and enjoy a Caribbean meal in Brooklyn Havana. I got grilled vegetables with parmesan cheese, Arroz (white rice) and fries.
24. Cinema Yara
The Cinema Yara is one of the most beautiful buildings in Vedado and among the first examples of artistic Cuban Modernist Movement. The Cinema was opened in the 40s of the last century, and even today is one of the main theaters of Cuba, a reference point for initiatives and film festivals. Certainly the most advanced, having fitted a few years ago, a digital projector. The curved frame and capture the colorful facade now your attention and will intrigue you so much that you'll want to go, if only for a fleeting visit. At the entrance, you will find a number of beautiful historic film posters Cubans who want to capture a photo.
25. Gelateria Coppelia
Coppelia is the perfect place to enjoy a good ice cream, but all this will require a little effort and patience. At the ice cream parlor Coppelia, in fact, you can pay a sundae in CUC or CUP (National currency). Paying for CUP will allow you to save enough and enjoy your ice cream in the most beautiful and historical premises of the famous ice cream parlor.
If you are a tourist and you do not want to wait that long for an ice cream, or you care to pay € 2 instead of pennies, then you can enter immediately, but will direct you to another wing of the building, renamed to Coppelia for tourists.
In fact, even the visit would not be worth the effort, but the guava ice cream I tasted from Coppelia is the best one by far I've ever eaten in life passing the strawberry cheesecake that I loved when I lived in Sweden. If you are patient enough and greedy like me, take a trip to the Coppelia ice cream parlor and order a cone or ice cream flavored with guava, caramel, vanilla, coconut or banana. The sweetness of ice cream will make you forget everything.
And we get the last of the historical places not to miss in Havana: the legendary Floridita bar opened in 1817 and known not only for its cocktails, but also a highly renowned fish cuisine. It is a historical place because it is here that in the last century was "invented" the Daiquiri cocktail and why this is the bar where Ernest Hemingway spent his evenings in Havana Cuba, including cigars and rum rivers.
The restaurant is located at the end of Calle Obispo, in a side street away from Central Park and a few meters from the Capitolio. The interior furnishings are in strong colors crimson and a corner of the bar, as if it were still sitting there at the counter, stands a bronze statue of Hemingway. Come here just for a drink after dinner and take a very kitsch pictures with the bronze Nobel prize.
WHAT TO DO IN VIÑALES
If you are traveling to Cuba, or are planning your itinerary at a time of the greatest pearl of the Caribbean, I recommend you visit Havana in 4 days and continue your tour to discover the island by going west, in the verdant province Pinar del Rio. In about three hours by bus, you will arrive in this area of lush valleys and tobacco fields, and know the most authentic part and wild of Cuba, in an impetuous leap in nature, after the chaos of the capital.
I recommend buying the bus tickets a few days early because there are many tourists and there is little availability. The tourist buses are the best option for getting around the island. They are clean, modern and air-conditioned and also cheaper than the more or less official taxi or minivan in which the local tourist authorities will try to fill up at all costs. I have tried all the solutions and the Viazul bus is absolutely the best. The ticket from Havana to Vinales costs 12 CUC, while a taxi there will ask around 80.
Vinales is a place where nature and rural life there will come before in all their vehemence, filling your eyes with wonders after returning to peace with the world, after the city life. The National Park Viñales has been declared a World Heritage Site and Natural Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO and included among the 52 Places to see in 2016 in the recent article in the New York Times.
It's tobacco, banana, coffee plantations, caves, and cliffs are beloved by climbers, but also not far are the paradisiacal beaches, will keep you busy for at least two days. If you plan to visit this great green lung intact, below I suggest the things to do in Vinales in two days.
27. tobacco plantations and horseback tour
Arriving in Vinales, and leave the suitcases in hotels, you reach the center of town and bought a horse ride in one of the small tourist agencies that will find opposite the main square. 15 CUC for 3 hours of horseback riding, with a guide, the exploration of the main valley. I must admit that the ride is not so simple, as there are muddy, rocky hills and streams to cross, but if I did it myself, as I mounted a horse for the first time, you can do it too.
I thought more than a few times, but in the end, I would be back in the saddle again. About 90% of the company's production must be sold to the government, which sends the leaves in the works in specialized factories. The rest can be sold directly from Fazendero and sold for a few CUC to visiting tourists. If you have to choose only one thing to do in Vinales, the horseback ride is the first of the list.
28. Cayo Jutias
If you have another day to spend in the Province of Pinar del Rio, I suggest you spend it on one of the white beaches of the coast from Cayo Jutias in Cayo Levisa. In about an hour and a half drive from Vinales center, you will find Cayo Jutias, a strip of white sand lapped by crystal clear waters and surrounded by beautiful mangroves, which I loved so much. To reach Cayo Jutias we spend about 20 CUC per person and stay on the beach until sunset when the mosquitoes begin to infest the air and the only restaurant on the beach closes the kitchen.
On Cayo Jutias there are no hotels or facilities in which to stay. Tourists arrive here around 11 in the morning and leave in the day. There are sunbeds and umbrellas to rent for less than 5 Euros or large open spaces in which to lie down without paying up a penny. A small water sports center for 10 CUC also offers excursions to a nearby island where spotting starfish. The snorkeling here is not the best, but the racing speedboat still dream.
WHAT TO DO IN TRINIDAD
If I had to recommend just one leg of a tour DIY in Cuba, I would say probably reach Trinidad. Havana is a magnetic city, but many times I had the urge to run away, annoyed by local and dried smog. The first impact of Trinidad was wonderful. I was greeted by Elio in its modern and clean house, I began to search the area keeping Via Lino Pérez and admired by passers-by a bench of the square, while the sunset down the colorful houses of an old town declared a World Heritage Site. I knew immediately that I would love to Trinidad. And so it was.
Trinidad is small, and in one day you see the whole. However, the unspoilt beauty of the colonial architecture, with its cobbled streets on which rattle the horses' hooves, the friendliness of the local, here you will never be bored, the relaxed and authentic atmosphere in the air, they will ask you to stay still, and from here you will not want to leave.
The city of Trinidad is located in the province of Sancti Spiritus, in the southern part of the center, and you can reach it from Vinales with a bus in about seven hours. Trinidad and its old town with colorful well-preserved colonial homes became part of the World Heritage of UNESCO in 1988, and in 2014 it celebrated its 500 years, half a millennium since the day when, in 1514, the conquistador Diego Velasquez de Cuellar founded the Villa de la Santissima in Trinidad.
I recommend you stay in Trinidad least three days. You will have the time to scour every corner of this magnificent place, but also to get a bit from the city and visit one of the many natural sites nearby, golden and beautiful Playa Ancon to Valle de lo Ingenios, from Topes de Collantes, the Reserva de Jobo Rosado or even devote a whole day to visit the city of Cienfuegos, which is about an hour from Trinidad.
29. Plaza Mayor
The Trinidad beating heart is the Plaza Mayor, and here you'll find yourself walking during the day, or to take pictures at sunset. It is said that all roads lead here in the city and you will realize very soon. In front of the plaza, the Iglesia Parroquial de la Santissima Trinidad, on whose scales are crowding players during the coolest hours of the day. Near the square are the best restaurants in town, sewing workshops (white tablecloths embroidered by hand by the local women are among the most beautiful souvenir you can take home), local craft shops, galleries, and museums.
30. Histórico Municipal Museum
The Museo Historico Municipal (Casa Cantero) is the main museum of Trinidad, which I recommend you visit not just to take some pictures to the elegant state rooms and the antique interiors, but because of the museum's tower, up a series of narrow spiral stairs, you can enjoy the best view of Trinidad. A 360-degree view that will leave you breathless and you will take with you a long time.
31. Shopping and local crafts
Cuba is not exactly renowned for its shopping and soon you will find that buying something original and interesting island is not so easy feat. Trinidad and Cienfuegos, however, are the only places in which to take out your wallets and buy some special gift for your loved ones.
In Trinidad, there are many small art galleries, with prints and paintings by local artists, lamps and colorful objects in terracotta, especially curtains and hand-embroidered tablecloths by the local women. The prices are not exactly low, but it's worth it. For a tablecloth with bobbin and embroidery following the traditional technique of the nineteenth century, I spent 60 CUC. A perfect gift for my mom.
32. House of Music Trinidad
You can not set foot in Cuba without thinking of having to also mention a single step of Cuban salsa sooner or later during your vacation. The perfect place to enjoy an evening in the company of talented salsa unleashed the pace of clubs is La Casa de la Musica in Trinidad. La Casa de la Musica is a historic place, a dance hall outside that develops on the most famous stairs of the city, on the right side of Iglesia de la Santissima Trinidad. An orchestra of talented musicians will delight you with the most notable successes of Compay Segundo and Buena Vista Social Club while smiling dancers will invite you on track for a rumba or bachata that you will never forget in life.
WHAT TO DO IN CIENFUEGOS
At about an hour's drive north of Trinidad is the beautiful city of Cienfuegos, a city founded by a French settler in 1819. The La Ciudad Que a mí más me Gusta (after Trinidad), taking up the words of the musician and star Benny Moré, is also known as the Perla del Sur which is an elegant heart of the French town with an intact and colonial architecture that has earned it the title of UNESCO World Heritage site. Unlike other cities of the island, including Havana, in Cienfuegos, you can breathe the atmosphere of a European city, with its streets full of shops, shopping centers, and small designer boutiques.
I recommend you visit Cienfuegos in a day, as you will not have much to see in town and you can spend the rest of your time to stay in some heavenly Cayo.
33. Parque Martí and colonial architecture
Discover the soul of Cienfuegos and the wonders of its French colonial architecture, stopping at Parque José Martí, the main park in Cienfuegos around which rise the highest and most important buildings in the city. You can take a picture to the Catedral de la Purisima Concepciòn or the Colegio San Lorenzo, or visit the Teatro Tomas Térry and arrive at the foot of the unique and original example of the Arc de Triomphe on Cuban soil.
34. Malecón of Cienfuegos
After visiting the historic downtown, head south to the Malecón along the Paseo del Prado, the longest Paseo island. The pedestrian street lined with historic buildings is also home of the famous Coppelia Ice Cream. The walk to the Malecón is not very long, but I advise you to make a stop here and enjoy a delicious sundae vanilla, before resuming the journey. The Malecón of Cienfuegos is much more elegant than that of Havana and you will love being able to sit in the waterfront, in the shade of a palm tree, at least for a few minutes. A romantic place that will fill your eyes with wonder.
35. Palazzo de Valle
Preseguendo further south, leaving behind the Malecón, head to Punta Gorda. It is a long walk, and you can also take coco-taxi for 2 or 3 CUC. Along the way, there are some beautiful buildings of the 20s of the last century (Palacio Azul and Club Cienfuegos) before arriving at Hotel and the Palacio de Valle. I recommend having lunch at Palacio de Valle and then returning to the center in the afternoon.
Palacio de Valle is a great Arabic building in the heart of Cuba. An elegant tower block of 1917 realized in the North African style with domes, turrets, and interior, which preserve as a precious gem a renowned Paladar. Reach the largest of the Palacio terrace, climbing the spiral stairs and enjoy a stunning view of the bay. Order a lobster for a few CUC at the restaurant and spend some time in the sun waterfront before taking the way back.
WHAT TO DO IN VARADERO
What I recommend you do when organizing your trip to Cuba is to leave at the end of the days of vacation at the beach and enjoy, as well, a well deserved relaxing holiday on one of the most beautiful beaches in Cuba at the end of a strenuous and demanding tour the island. As beach resorts in Cuba are endless from Cayo Guillermo to Cayo Santa Maria, from Cayo Largo to Varadero, I chose to spend the last 4-5 days of vacation in Varadero, because I wanted to be pampered in a resort, after so much travel around the country.
36. Beach and Snorkeling Life
Varadero is located about an hour and a half drive from Havana and about six hours from Trinidad, in the far north of the island of Cuba, in the Province of Matanzas. Varadero is a strip of white sand 20 km long, where you follow the most luxurious hotels in Cuba and where the sea water is one with the blue sky. Of things to do in Varadero, there are not many.
We also rented a scooter and visited for half a day Varadero City, the center of the city, but apart from some little shops of handicrafts and a small park, there are no must-see attractions. All you can do better in Varadero is to enjoy its beautiful sea, come out on the catamaran and do snorkeling at Playa Coral, and wait for the sunset on the beach before joining a dancing in one of the clubs of the city.
This is the story of my trip to Cuba and suggestions for living a perfect holiday on the largest island in the Caribbean that will make you rediscover the living soul and feel the roar of this rich country of myths, revolutions, and romantic ballads and enjoy a unique holiday, including historic towns, endless beaches, and the sea.
When you go to Cuba \ Cuba Weather
From a climatic point of view to visit Cuba, we recommend the period from October to June. We do not recommend the months of September and October to avoid the bump in the event of tropical storms.
The best time to go to Cuba is usually the one that runs from late November or early December to April because there is less chance to meet hurricanes. The months from May to October are more prone to too intense rains and tropical storms, even if the temperatures do not drop and the heat can be felt nonetheless. Cuba is an island and as such suffers a bit of climatic instability, with hot and dry summers and winters.
If you want to organize a vacation in Cuba that combines a beach holiday, the driest months, then go by the end of November to April, when it is sunny and hot and ensures a holiday with the good weather, with the always high and tropical temperature sun to make you forget the rigors of Winter.
In the months from late November to February, however, there is the possibility of rains that could occur in the north of the country so there may be relative temperature changes in areas such as Varadero. If you are going to plan a beach holiday in Cuba in December, maybe you'll want to consider the beautiful beaches of Cayo Largo, sheltered from cold winds coming from the USA and surrounded by crystal clear sea and heavenly waters.
Caribbean Flights \ Cuba Cheap flights
Organizing a trip to the Caribbean and, above all, plan a vacation in Cuba these days, it is to play strategy and book your flights at least four months in advance. I leave in December, but the flight to Cuba I took in June, assuring a fee, even if not low-cost, least advantageous. The true last minute flight, in fact, no longer exist and organizing yourselves in advance is always better, if you want to save the cost of the trip.
Cuba Visa and Passport
To visit Cuba you must be in possession of a passport that has a validity of at least six months on entry into the country. Once you buy the cheapest flight to Cuba, then you can start the visa process to enter the country. In fact, more than a visa itself, it is a simple Tarjeta de Turista, a document that all tourists heading to Cuba must present at the entrance of the country and which will be printed on the visa. The visa allows you to stay in Cuba for 30 consecutive days, which could be extended by another 30 if you do express request at one of the Immigration Offices in the country.
If you purchase the journey and the flight with a tour operator, you probably will not have to give you to do to get hold of the Tarjeta, you will receive along with your travel documents, and all formalities will take care of the agency workers. If you are planning your trip independently, then you have to worry about requiring the visa to Cuba and be sure not to forget to this small, particularly important.
You can go at the headquarters of the Cuban Embassy or at the Cuban Consulate and request directly there. You will not need pictures, but you will need to indicate your return flight, and report where you will stay the first night in Cuba. The visa is delivered within the day and will cost around 25 Euro. If you want to be sent home, take into account an increase in the cost.
On the Tarjeta will be printed at the entrance visa to Cuba, so that will be your travel document, to take with you when you are traveling around the country. Sifting among the various forums I discovered that there is a site especially popular with travelers, who with a few clicks will deliver a visa directly at home, within 2 or 3 days.
Cuba Health Insurance
To enter Cuba you will also need a health insurance. Medical insurance is compulsory and can be bought once in Cuba, Airport, or you can obtain these before leaving in a few easy steps and spending less. There are many sites that allow you to buy one and keep you safe from nasty surprises. On the website of the Foreign Ministry, you will find all the information about the health situation in Cuba
Cuba Electrical outlets
Have you arranged your trip in detail, but lacks that little detail of figuring out what kind of electrical outlet are in Cuba, what kind of voltage and frequency, and electrical adapter you will need. In Cuba, the most common electrical outlets are of type A and type C, but there are also taken to type B and L. The voltage is 110 V, and the 69Hz frequency. I recommend that you purchase an adapter before arriving on the island since in Cuba it is not always easy to find them.
This is the route that I suggest you follow if you are planning a two-week holiday in Cuba.
8 days in Havana
Havana is a great city that deserves a few more days and I suggest you live, if not for a week, at least four days. You'll love the city, including colonial architecture, walking at sunset on the Malecon and dance halls where you can join in the evening to a sensual pas de deux in the rhythm of salsa.
Two days in Vinales
From Havana go by bus or taxi or rental car to the Viñales Valley (UNESCO Heritage), located in the province of Pinar del Rio, for excursions in the green hills populated by tobacco plantations, horseback horse trekking sessions and a trip to the beautiful Cayo Jutias beach.
If you are planning to go to Vinales, do not be afraid to remain without a home. As soon as you set foot in the city you will be surrounded by intentioned ladies to advertise their beautiful casa particular. And in many cases, really worth it to follow them. You will spend very little, you will sleep in a little house all to yourself, courtesy of the local will not miss anything.
One day in Cienfuegos
Viñales let your departure and head in the French town of Cienfuegos, the Pearl of the South. The historic center of the city is another UNESCO World Heritage.
Two days in Trinidad
About an hour's bus ride to the south of Cienfuegos is the beautiful city of Trinidad. Lanes of cobbled streets lined with colorful colonial houses and decadent beauty hiding flowered patios, nineteenth-century rooms and terraces overlooking the city. Although Trinidad has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
One day in Santa Clara
After leaving Trinidad, head north again and go down the center towards the island Santa Clara. An essential stop on your trip to Cuba to get to know the history of the country and watch closely the signs of revolution.
Five days in Varadero
After leaving Santa Clara and the life of the city, it's time to enjoy some relaxing on a white beach and to do plenty of snorkeling in the clear waters of the Caribbean Sea, facing the Gulf of Mexico. Varadero is a tourist site, and the city does not have many attractions to offer. For more than 20 km flock on the northern coast of Cuba dozens of beautiful resorts. At the end of your amazing and exhausting journey, discover the island, and I'm sure the sweet paradise of Varadero will give you the proper break.
What to wear in Cuba?
It depends on the season you have chosen. Although temperatures are Mantega above 20 degrees throughout the year, in the cold season it will be good to bear a sweatshirt and a jacket with you. If you're vacationing in Cuba in November or December, the northern fresh currents could to spoil the festivities and make the atmosphere not really hot. Especially in the northern part of Cuba (Varadero included) occurrence of small drops in temperature, and the night in hotels you might feel a little cold.
Cuba travel tips
One important tip is not to expend all the money but to keep 20 Cuc per person because you will be requested at the airport when you have to take the return flight. The 20 Cuc (around $ 20) are used to pay the airport taxes for the exit. If the airport tax is already included in the ticket, you will not have to worry about anything. Inquire when you buy a ticket to Cuba, or check at the airport upon arrival.
Put in your suitcase also medicines and a first aid kit. In Cuba, it is not always easy to find the medicines you are looking for and you might sweat a lot before you buy them. Bring mosquito repellent. Women should know that sanitary napkins and tampons in Cuba are very hard to find, so you should put in your suitcase a small supply of panty liners and feminine hygiene products, in order not to find yourself without them.
Do not forget to bring a paper-based travel guide. The Internet in Cuba is a rarity and you will want to have references like addresses, opening hours, phone numbers for emergencies etc. Carry a book. Without WiFi in Cuba, you will have a lot of time to indulge in a good read, on the bus, in the long trips around the island, or on the beach under an umbrella.
Cubans can also be annoying, and try to take you to this or that restaurant, or rent you a room at all costs, just to scrape together something. But there are also many wonderful children, who will simply be curious about you. Consider this when you make the case and see if you can make them feel happy with a candy or colored pencils for them.
The most spoken language is Spanish because the Spanish domination which has started with the arrival of Columbus in 1492, for which the local language, Taino, was totally supplanted. The Hispanic influence is still ongoing despite the wars of independence (1800-1952) and coups that have attempted to overthrow the Cuban government.